A Room of One's Own

by Virginia Woolf

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Does Woolf's quote about the discouragement of women artists in the 19th century from A Room of One's Own still apply to many women today?

“Even in the nineteenth century a woman was not encouraged to be an artist. On the contrary, she was snubbed, slapped, lectured and exhorted. Her mind must have been strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of disproving that.”

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Nineteenth-century authors Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë were compelled to write under male pseudonyms to get their work published. Mary Anne Evans wrote under the pen name George Eliot. In the mid-twentieth century, best-selling true crime writer Ann Rule was forced by her editor at True Detective to publish her stories as Andy Stack. And incredibly, even Harry Potter powerhouse J. K. Rowling was advised to use her initials to conceal her female gender as a writer of a first book to be marketed to young adult male readers. Virginia Woolf's words are unfortunately true in the literary world and also apply to women in the visual and performing arts. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the world's finest orchestras, refused to admit women until 1997. The American film industry was slow to support women as studio heads, producers, and directors, and the #metoo movement is proof of the struggles that female actors have faced in recent history.

The implication that Woolf's words have is that in addition to the general struggle to become an artist, with its attendant problems of uncertain income and pressure to conform to profitable trends, women artists face sexism that makes their climb steeper. To have their art exposed to an audience, many women must first work to break through barriers that attempt to mute their voices.

Although female artists have fared better since Woolf's time, it is certainly arguable that they still face difficulties that their male counterparts do not face. There are many women in top positions in film studios, on the bestseller lists, in the music industry, in the theater word, and in galleries and museums, but even they struggle with sexism and expectations from which men are exempt.

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